# Why are successive maximas in single slit diffraction patterns of reducing intensity?

1. Dec 7, 2011

### hale2bopp

The central maxima is of highest intensity and then the successive maximas keep reducing in intensity. Has it got something to do with increasing number of waves which sort of interefere (the word has not been used in the sense of intereference pattern but as a normal english word) with the working of each other?

2. Dec 8, 2011

3. Dec 8, 2011

### PatrickPowers

Re: Why are successive maximas in single slit diffraction patterns of reducing intens

The single slit shows local maxima and minima? Are you certain of that?

4. Dec 9, 2011

5. Dec 9, 2011

### chrisbaird

Re: Why are successive maximas in single slit diffraction patterns of reducing intens

To add to jtbell's great info: the wave going through a double-slit system experiences both diffraction and interference. The wave going through a single slit interferes with itself, this is known as diffraction. Additionally, each wave from the two slits interferes with each other, which is known as interference. Both phenomena create interference patterns. The final pattern from a double-slit experiment is a combination of the interference pattern and diffraction pattern. For a given wavelength, you change the diffraction pattern by changing the slit size, and you change the interference pattern by changing the slit separation. You can get a wide variety of final patterns by adjusting slit width and separation.

Play around with this excellent applet to get a feel for the roles diffraction and interference play in producing the final pattern.

Last edited: Dec 9, 2011
6. Dec 10, 2011

### hale2bopp

Re: Why are successive maximas in single slit diffraction patterns of reducing intens

Er. .I thank you very much for the pages given, but I think I will need more knowledge of maths and phasors to understand this. I guess I will work on that, first. But, if I'm not wrong, delta is the constant phase difference, of one point on the wavefront, from the point directly above it. So, the parameter which is changing in the whole experiment, is the vector sum of the waves? Is that, simply, what causes a change in the intensity?

7. Dec 10, 2011

### Staff: Mentor

Re: Why are successive maximas in single slit diffraction patterns of reducing intens

Each phasor represents the light coming from a small section of the width of the slit. The length of the phasor corresponds to the amplitude of the light, and the direction corresponds to the phase. Adding waves together corresponds to adding the phasors by putting them head to tail daisy-chain style and drawing the resultant phasor directly from one end of the chain to the other. The length of the resultant gives you the amplitude of the sum of the waves.

You divide the width of the slit into a lot of sections (call the number N) all with the same width. The light coming from each section corresponds to a phasor, all with the same length, but with slightly different directions. The angle between phasors depends on which point on the screen the light arrives at.

At the center of the screen, all the light is in phase, so the phasors are all in the same direction and they add in a straight line. The amplitude (length) of the resultant is just the sum of the amplitudes of the individual phasors.

Move a little bit away from the center of the screen, and the phasors are now in slightly different directions, with consecutive phasors having a small angle between them, the same angle for each pair. The daisy-chain starts to curl away from a straight line.

As you move further from the center of the screen, the chain of phasors curls up more and more, but the total length along the chain remains constant. Think of curling up a piece of string with a fixed length. The straight-line distance between the two ends decreases as the chain curls up. Eventually the two ends meet, forming a circle, and the resultant is zero: the first minimum of the diffraction pattern.

Now keep going further from the center of the screen. The chain of phasors continues to curl up on itself, with the two ends overlapping. They still form a circle, but the radius decreases as the the ends overlap more and more. The distance between the ends (the amplitude of the resultant) increases from zero at first, reaches a second maximum near where the chain makes "one and a half" circles, and then becomes zero again when the chain makes two full circles. Etc. The maxima get smaller and smaller because the diameter of the circle gets smaller and smaller.

In the derivation, δ (delta) is the total phase difference "across the width of the slit", that is, between rays of light from the two edges of the slit, represented by the first and last phasors in the chain. At the first minimum (phasor chain makes one complete circle), δ = 360° (2π radians). At the second minimum, δ = 720° (4π radians), etc.

8. Dec 11, 2011

### hale2bopp

Re: Why are successive maximas in single slit diffraction patterns of reducing intens

Okay. That makes it a lot clearer. Thank you.